I came across an article today whose headline trumpeted the news that a new study has found that religious people are less intelligent than non-religious people. The study apparently looked at evidence from 63 other studies and determined that “overall, the meta analysis establishes the existence of a ‘reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity.'” So, I guess all those smart, religious people I know are either secretly not that religious or not as smart as they seem. Of course, since I’m religious, I’m apparently not as smart as I seem, so that could be why the smart, religious people I know seem smart to me. Sigh.
I can’t help but think about this issue of intelligence and religiosity against the background of the so-called culture wars. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that too many “religious people” have run amok in our culture, advocating points of view that just don’t make sense to the average intelligent person. Like all those religious people who believe that the universe was created in seven 24 hour days, “just the like the Bible says.” And all those religious people who think that gay people are condemned to hell. And all those religious people who think that women should be subservient to men. And…..well, the list goes on and on, and you are likely quite familiar with it. And the media just loves these sorts of religious people, because they say outrageous things, and sometimes do outrageous things, and people supposedly just love watching people doing and saying outrageous things. The way people seem to be compelled to slow down and gape at the aftermaths of accidents.
So, this latest proclamation about the relative unintelligence of religious people fits into the larger cultural narrative that the media loves to create: the religious people are outrageous, and being religious means committing yourself to the outrageous. It means, well, that you are mean. And bigoted. And prejudiced. And…….on and on it goes. Now I guess we can add stupid to the list.
The problem is there are a great many religious people who don’t fit into this cultural narrative. I am surrounded almost every day of my life by bunches of religious people who are thoughtful and curious. A great many of them have advanced degrees, and work in professions that require a great deal of analytical rigor. And these same people are deeply committed to their faith, though the way they hold their faith does not sound like the faith that the media likes to talk about. Indeed, for the most part, it is the polar opposite of what the media likes to talk about.
Even the “new atheists” seem largely unaware of this more thoughtful, more nuanced way of being faithful. Almost every book I have ever encountered in the new atheist movement rails against the religion of the outrageous, and presents it as if that is the only thing faith is or can be. And I find myself agreeing with them in many respects: I don’t believe in the God they are railing against, either. And yet, I’m not an atheist. I do believe in God — but my God looks quite different from the God of the religious right.
So, I would really like us to stop now. I would like us to stop trying to paint all religion and the people who practice religion as crazy and outrageous, while acknowledging that there are some who are. And, while I’m on the subject, religious people need to stop painting non-religious people as if they were somehow terrible. And, we all need to stop trying to push our beliefs and non-beliefs onto each other. And trying to make our particular belief system the foundation for public policy.
Instead, we need to find a way to respect the belief systems and spiritual practices (or non-practices) that each of us follows. And we need to recognize that if those beliefs and practices lead us to do harm to another person, or to restrict another person’s rights, that this is a problem. In other words, we need to learn to love each other in the broadest sense of that word: to want what is best for the human family, not just what is best for me alone or for those who agree with me. Humanity has grown up living in relatively homogeneous cultures where people were religiously largely on the same or a similar page. But this is quickly disappearing, certainly from America but also from other places. We are living in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious age when very different people with very different beliefs and practices are living together. If we are not ultimately to kill ourselves and each other, we need to learn to live in this reality, rather than trying desperately to live in a reality that we wish was true but is gone. Living in this reality requires us to be more flexible, more open, more compassionate, more able to hold contradiction rather than needing to force all contradictions into some kind of resolution.
Yes, I suppose some will say that this is pie-in-the-sky idealism. Perhaps it is. But remember, I’m one of those religious people. I’m expected to be a bit outrageous.
The article to which I am referring can be found HERE.